“I think the official story is that it’s the urinal,” drummer Zack Mykula tells me. “We’ll say it’s the urinal.” Like the Joker from The Dark Knight, PUP believes in a choose-your-own origin story. Today, it seems, Toronto’s punk rock quartet found their name in graffiti above a urinal at Sneaky Dee’s.
What’s less debatable, however, is the acclaim PUP has enjoyed since breaking out in 2013. While recording, releasing, and touring their self-titled debut record, what began as a group of friends jamming evolved into a well-oiled, Juno-nominated punk rock machine. After two long years on the road, the group is gearing up to release their hotly anticipated sophomore LP, The Dream is Over, later this year.
In the band’s basement jam space, we talk songwriting, broadening genres, and the video games that inspired the music video for their latest single, “DVP.”
“The snotty little brothers”
Striking a balance between pop hooks and unabashedly heavy guitars and drums, PUP have found themselves welcomed by two very different music audiences.
“There’s now a tradition kind of introduced by Alexisonfire where heavier music is becoming a little more accepted. So I can’t say we’re blazing any trails or whatever,” Mykula explains. “But yeah, just by virtue of what we listen to and how we write, it just happened that we write pop music that’s heavy.”
“It’s been interesting though,” adds lead vocalist and guitarist Stefan Babcock. “Because of that sound we’ve been able to open for such a wide variety of bands.” Babcock recounts a 2013 tour opening for Vancouver based group The Zolas and Toronto’s Hollerado, both lighter-sounding acts, that was followed immediately by a series of shows with the hardcore band, Cancer Bats.
“The demographic is just the exact opposite, and somehow we found a way to fit in with both of those tours,” Babcock says. “On the Hollerado/Zolas tour we were like the crazy heavy badass punks, and then we went on this Cancer Bats tour and we were like the snotty little brothers, you know?”
The most recent single of their upcoming record is an example of the group’s blend of hardcore and melodic sound. Falsetto “oohs” rest atop relentless drumming in “DVP,” while Babcock shouts, “She says that I drink too much, I fucked up and she hates my guts.”
The music video, dreamt up and directed by filmmaker Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, blends the band’s feverish sound with the fast-paced, flashy video games the guys grew up playing in the mid-nineties.
“We listen to Tony Hawk soundtracks”
Noting other Canadian acts, like Bossie and BADBADNOTGOOD, that often channel the sounds of old 8-bit video games, I ask the band if the games ever inspired their music. “It definitely had an impact on me,” Mykula says. “We were in a band that covered some Mega Man songs,” bassist Nestor Chumak chimes in. I profess my love of Mega Man 2’s soundtrack, but am quickly reminded by Mykula that Mega Man 7 and X are simply where it’s at. “Mega Man X, the composition is insane, and then Super Metroid, the composition is insane.”
PUP has clearly earned gaming chops. “I think the thing about a lot of that music too is Nintendo had the kind of big budget to hire someone who was a composer,” guitarist Steve Sladkowski suggests. “All of that music is really a lot more complex than I think people would realize just given the medium and the format.” The band also points to the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games as seminal crash courses on punk music in their youth. “That’s what we do when we decide to do a new cover. We listen to Tony Hawk soundtracks.”
PUP’s LP was released via Royal Mountain Records, a label founded by members of Hollerado that now feature talent like Alvvays and PKEW PKEW PKEW, among others. Babcock describes the ever-growing label as a DIY kind of label. “It’s really like a group of friends who just kind of help each other, and it’s kind of cool to be a part of that.”
Although some artists write tracks for their sophomore records while touring, PUP’s style of songwriting simply doesn’t allow for that luxury.
“Because of the nature of how we write as a band, which is really the four of us in a room putting the songs together, you can’t do that on the road. It’s literally impossible,” Babcock says.”The majority of the songs we wrote for the record we did kind of in short spurts whenever we were home. We’d be home for a month and spend five days a week writing,” adds Sladkowski. “It was a very tough job in a lot of ways, which was cool because that’s kind of what we all wanted in a way, for this to really be the full time thing.”
“There was kind of this fear at the beginning of, ‘if we’re on the road this much, how are we ever going to complete a record?'” Babcock explains. “But the thing that I found pretty cool is that you’re on the road and you’re just kind of playing shows every night and not really doing much else and not writing, but there’s this whole kind of creative buildup that happens in your subsconscious… and when you have a moment to come home and sit back and regroup, all of that creativity that’s been building up just kind of vomits out of you really fast.”
“The kind of band we are and the kind of band we want to be”
While staying true to the sort of sounds that initially attracted their fans, The Dream is Over won’t be a cut and paste of the 2013 LP. “It’s generally heavier than the last record. We just kind of have a much clearer understanding of the kind of band we are and the kind of band we want to be, whereas the previous record we were kind of figuring out what our sound was going to be.”
PUP’s self-titled debut album sought to channel the sound and sensation of their live show; feedback and all, the record conveys the rawness of a distortion-heavy rock show. With album two, they hope to take that even further.
“I think we accomplished what we were going for,” Babcock says. “The question is just whether people are going to connect with it or not.”